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Comparison of satellite, thermochron and air temperatures at Summit, Greenland, during the winter of 2008/09

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Current trends show a rise in Arctic surface and air temperatures, including over the Greenland ice sheet where rising temperatures will contribute to increased sea-level rise through increased melt. We aim to establish the uncertainties in using satellite-derived surface temperature for measuring Arctic surface temperature, as satellite data are increasingly being used to assess temperature trends. To accomplish this, satellite-derived surface temperature, or land-surface temperature (LST), must be validated and limitations of the satellite data must be assessed quantitatively. During the 2008/09 boreal winter at Summit, Greenland, we employed data from standard US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) air-temperature instruments, button-sized temperature sensors called thermochrons and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite instrument to (1) assess the accuracy and utility of thermochrons in an ice-sheet environment and (2) compare MODIS-derived LSTs with thermochron-derived surface and air temperatures. The thermochron-derived air temperatures were very accurate, within 0.1±0.3°C of the NOAA-derived air temperature, but thermochron-derived surface temperatures were ∼3°C higher than MODIS-derived LSTs. Though surface temperature is largely determined by air temperature, these variables can differ significantly. Furthermore, we show that the winter-time mean air temperature, adjusted to surface temperature, was ∼11°C higher than the winter-time mean MODIS-derived LST. This marked difference occurs largely because satellite-derived LSTs cannot be measured through cloud cover, so caution must be exercised in using time series of satellite LST data to study seasonal temperature trends.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2010

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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